Ageing Could Be Reversed By Removing Wrinkles Inside Our Cells, Study Suggests

Dr. Irina Bochkis has made a new discovery that could let us prevent or cure diseases such as diabetes and fatty liver disease, and possibly let us turn back the clock on ageing itself. (Credit: Dan Addison/ University of Virginia Communications)

Wrinkles aren’t just a sign of ageing on our appearance, but also occurs deep inside on a cellular level. These wrinkles appear to prevent our genes from functioning properly, researchers have found. 

While there’s no wrinkle cream for nuclear membranes, there is a tantalising possibility: We might use viruses to smooth the membranes’ surfaces — and restore the cells to functioning as they did in the glow of youth. 

In a study published online in Aging Cell last month, researchers from the University of Virgina School of Medicine suggests that fatty liver disease, and other unwanted effects of ageing may be the result of our cells’ nuclei — the compartment containing our DNA — getting wrinkly.

 

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Their discovery shows that the location of our DNA inside the cell’s nucleus is critically important. Genes that are turned off are shoved up against the nuclear membrane, which encases the nucleus. But with age, our nuclear membranes become lumpy and irregular, and that prevents genes from turning off appropriately. 

“We have the same DNA in every single cell but each cell is different,” Dr. Irina Bochkis of the University of Virginia’s Department of Pharmacology, explained. 

“So how does that work? Well, actually, certain genes need to be on in the liver and they have to be turned off in the brain, for example, and vice versa. If they’re not turned off appropriately, then you have problems.”

 

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Looking at a model of fatty liver disease, Bochis found that our livers become studded with fat as we age because of the wrinkly nuclear membranes.

“When your nuclear membrane is no longer functioning properly, it can release the DNA that’s supposed to be turned off,” she said. “So then your little liver cell becomes a little fat cell.”

 

“The liver can end up looking like Swiss cheese.” 

 

The accumulation of fat inside the liver can cause serious health effects, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, even potentially leading to death. “The liver can end up looking like Swiss cheese,” Bochis said. 

The membrane wrinkling stems from a lack of substance called lamin, a cellular protein that comes in various forms. By putting the appropriate lamin back, we might smooth out the membrane, like Retinol helps smooth facial wrinkles. 

 

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Getting there is a challenge, but Bochkis has an idea: Using viruses to deliver the shipment. 

Scientists are already modifying viruses for beneficial medical purposes, and it would be particularly easy to get a modified virus to the liver because of the organ’s role in detoxifying the body. 

And if it works? “You’re going to have normal cells–normal, healthy cells—and they will appropriately express the genes that should be expressed and… you’re going to eradicate the stuff that shouldn’t be there,” Bochkis said. 

 

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She suspects the wrinkling of the nuclear membrane is responsible for unwanted effects of ageing in other parts of the body as well. 

“Every time I give this talk to colleagues, they say, ‘well, do you think this is a universal mechanism?'”, Bochkis said. “In my opinion, I think it is.”